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Fears as ‘unreliable’ Inverness school bus service set to get worse, parents claim

Millburn Academy school bus
Buses not calling at the right stops, arriving late or not arriving at all are just some of the complaints from Millburn Academy parents.

Inverness parents say an “utterly unreliable” bus service is making it hard for pupils to get to school on time at Millburn Academy.

One mum said that her daughters have had to walk more than three miles to school, thanks to a bus that never came.

She said it means they arrive tired, frustrated and sometimes over an hour late.

Parents, school leaders and local councillors have all lodged complaints and been involved in talks with the route provider, Stagecoach.

Now, they’re worried it’s about to become even more difficult in April, when one of the four buses is being cut.

Late arrivals, no-shows and drive-bys

Parents said that issues with the school buses from Milton of Leys to Millburn Academy have been constant.

Julie Backhurst said that the bus is scheduled to arrive at her daughters’ stop on Redwood Avenue at 8.05 am. But sometimes it doesn’t arrive until 8.30 am.

That 25-minute window makes it difficult for the kids to decide when they should start walking or trying to make another arrangement.

On days when the bus doesn’t stop at all, her daughters have had to walk more than three miles to school.

Stressful for parents and pupils

Parents with flexible work schedules, or older children who can drive themselves can adjust more easily to changes in the bus route.

But for Miss Backhurst and others in a similar situation, adaptability isn’t always an option.

“I do find it stressful. I’m working full-time, and I work shifts, and every morning now I’m texting the girls to make sure they’re getting to school because the bus service has been completely and utterly unreliable.”

She said that the buses that come are usually double-deckers, but sometimes a single arrives and there isn’t room for everyone.

She worries about there being enough space for everyone when the number of buses is cut to three, although Highland Council has said all three buses will be double-deckers.

Parents say there isn’t always enough room for everyone when one of the buses is a single-decker.

Millburn Rector Johnny Croall said that he has seen firsthand how pupils are struggling to get the bus to school.

“I witnessed for myself this issue of buses not stopping at the correct stop, particularly at Redwood, and Stagecoach realise that they need to reinforce this with drivers.”

He said that he has received acknowledgement of the issues from Stagecoach. When asked about the complaints, a Stagecoach spokeswoman directed questions about the service to Highland Council.

Mr Croall added that some of the issues with late arrivals stem from pupils waiting to catch a later bus. He said it’s important for pupils to arrive on time and use all space available.

Parents left with ‘picking up the slack’

Local councillor Ken Gowans says not enough has changed.

“We’ve received reassurances from Stagecoach but as yet they’ve proved to be unfortunately unreliable for whatever reason.

“Parents are becoming understandably increasingly frustrated because they’re having to pick up the slack.”

He said that parents and the school should have been consulted before the council decided to reduce the bus service. And he argued that the change shouldn’t happen in the middle of a school year.

Councillor Ken Gowans said the council should have consulted with the school and parents before reducing the bus provision. Picture by SANDY McCOOK

“People build their lives around school. And parents need time to make arrangements for their kids. And we’re talking about a fair distance still, even if it is less than three miles.”

Cutting buses, cutting costs

A Highland Council transport officer explained the change in service in a letter to the school.

In it, they said the council is under “significant budgetary pressure” and the four buses cost almost £200,000 per year.

Beginning April 18, there will be only three double-decker buses servicing the route and stopping at Milton of Leys Pinewood, Wester Inshes and Millburn Academy.

A council spokeswoman said the council expects to save £29,422 per year by cutting the fourth bus.

Because these buses aren’t registered as public service routes, only the 222 Millburn pupils who are more than three miles away from school and eligible for free council transportation can be accommodated on the route.

A council spokeswoman said that there will also be a public service bus running earlier than the school buses along the 105 route. Pupils without a school bus pass can ride the public bus for free if they have a Young Persons’ free travel pass.

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